How TV chef Jamie Oliver helped get cheesemakers out of a pickle
A dairy farmer who feared he would need to throw away cheese worth £50,000 as demand crashed during lockdown has seen a spectacular resurgence in sales – with the help of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
Cheesemaker Jonny Crickmore, at Fen Farm Dairy, near Bungay, said he lost 70pc of his trade after restaurants and delicatessens closed in the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis.
After taking the tough decision to halt production and furlough half the team, he said a change of focus onto online orders and home deliveries helped to move some of the backlog, with a cut-price deal selling 400 whole cheese wheels in a single weekend.
But the company’s real saving grace came after a social media campaign to promote British farmhouse produce, which caught the attention of Radio 4 Food Programme presenter Sheila Dillon and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
It led to Fen Farm’s Baron Bigod cheese being included in a special “Save British Cheese” selection box compiled by Neal’s Yard Dairy in London, prompting massive demand which emptied Mr Crickmore’s stores and create a lasting hunger for his artisan Brie-style speciality.
Although more peaks and troughs in supply and demand were to follow as production got back up to speed, he said revenue has now settled at 30pc higher than it was at this time last year – proving the value of social media, industry collaboration and “the Jamie effect”.
Mr Crickmore said: “It was always in the back of my mind that if we got the message out to the right people then we could sell that cheese.
“I spoke to anyone I knew who was big on social media and looked for a favour, really. A few food writers and radio presenters started to take notice and it was not just us – other cheesemakers and cheese shops were doing this as well, raising awareness for the British public to support the artisan cheese that is produced here.
“Sheila Dillon from Radio 4 was a big part of that. She said it was an important thing for the public to get behind. She got to the right people and one was Jamie Oliver. He did a fantastic appeal to all his eight or nine million social media fans, just saying this industry is struggling and all we need to do is eat some cheese.
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“We sold all our cheese in three hours. The whole fridge was emptied. It was more than 2,000 wheels of Baron Bigod sold in a Saturday afternoon. That is more than we would sell at Christmas.
“The ‘Jamie effect’ gave a boost to all the cheesemakers, because people wanted to get behind buying artisan cheese.
“From that point onwards it has picked up and has been good ever since. By the time you average it all out we have got around 30pc growth from this time last year.”
Mr Crickmore said despite being “in a right pickle” at the start of the lockdown, the company has emerged in “ a good place”, with increased online demand and a greater appreciation among consumers for farmhouse produce.
“Initially it was pretty disastrous, but now the wholesalers have come back and our web sales are so much larger,” he said. “It has mixed things up a bit. People started shopping with different habits for a while and some of those habits stay. Now we just need to do more if it. I think the key is to deliver something good and consistent, and people will come back because they like it.
“There is no reason why people shouldn’t continue shopping like this. Time will tell, but the whole thing has given people the chance to explore a different way of buying food, and many of them are continuing to do it. I think it is a positive thing.”
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